Debate Over Census Takes Shape

Posted March 3, 2009 at 6:28pm

There’s always a campaign, and every decade, there’s also a census.

Gearing up for both, Members of Congress are beginning to take stock of the census next year that will influence the allocation of Congressional districts throughout the country.

The potentially heated debate over the census, which attracts the attention of minority groups, political parties and state capitals every 10 years, comes as the Obama administration moves to shift ultimate control of the census from the Commerce Department to the White House.

Critics — mostly Republican but including some Democrats — have said such a move would inject politics into what should be a nonpartisan assessment of the country’s population.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would make the U.S. Census Bureau an independent agency and give the newly created office increased funding and autonomy.

Some lawmakers said there is no need to form an independent Census Bureau since people will still disagree over how the census should be conducted.

“We always have these arguments and discussions every 10 years,— Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) said. “We’ve been doing it ever since Moses numbered the people back when the children of Israel were coming out of Egypt. … And no matter who took them, there would be some arguments.—

But House GOP leaders seemed open to considering Maloney’s proposal. “I would be willing to give it a fair look,— said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), who noted that he hasn’t seen the bill. “The debate will be in the details.—

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, which has jurisdiction over the census, declined on Tuesday to take a position on Maloney’s bill.

But hinting that he will not raise objections to Obama bringing census responsibilities into the White House, Carper scheduled a hearing for Thursday that will “discuss steps the Obama administration must take to get things right.—

“The cost of the 2010 census has escalated to more than $14 billion, making it the most expensive census in history,— Carper said in a statement. “In a time of unprecedented budget deficits and a national economic crisis, we must do everything we can to eliminate avoidable mistakes, and make the 2010 Census as effective and efficient as possible.—

A House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee will also hold a hearing Thursday to begin examining census operations.